With leadership from Governor Abbott, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, and Speaker Dennis Bonnen, conservatives in the Texas Legislature recently concluded a successful legislative session in which a great number of key conservative reforms were enacted. As the largest non-partisan caucus in the Texas Legislature, the Texas Conservative Coalition (TCC) played a central role in these accomplishments. This document highlights those key victories and many additional reforms important for the State of Texas.
In addition to passing conservative priorities, one of the most important responsibilities of conservatives in the Texas Legislature is to oppose legislation that violates TCC’s LIFT principles (Limited Government, Individual Liberty, Free Enterprise, and Traditional Values). TCC opposed 136 such bills on the floor of the House of Representatives. 97 of those bills were defeated either on the House floor, in the Senate, or by Governor Abbott’s veto pen. In terms of policy that passed into law, conservative victories in the 86th Legislative Session were myriad:
Key Conservative Reforms of the 86th Legislature
- The Property Tax Reform and Transparency Act of 2019 – Senate Bill 2 (Bettencourt, et al. | SP: Burrows) is the most meaningful property tax reform package in decades. The bill slows property tax increases by limiting the amount of tax revenue that local taxing entities may raise without an election. If tax revenue growth exceeds 3.5 percent, then voters will be given the opportunity to oppose such increases in an election for that purpose, held on the uniform election date in November. The 3.5 percent automatic election trigger is lowered from the 8 percent “rollback rate,” which includes optional trigger for an election in most entities. The bill appropriately re-brands this rate the “no-new-revenue tax rate” and contains numerous additional reforms also meant to empower taxpayers. For example, greater emphasis is placed on informing taxpayers of when and where hearings pertaining to proposed tax rates will be held. It also improves training of arbitrators hearing property tax appeals and creates a council to advise the Comptroller on improving the efficiency of the property tax system and complaint resolution.
- School Finance Reform and Property Tax Relief – House Bill 3 (Huberty, et al. | SP: Taylor) fundamentally transforms the school finance system in Texas. Central to school finance is revenue raised through property taxes. HB 3 provides more than $5 billion in property tax relief and commits the state to ongoing property tax relief (through state “compression”) of additional 2.5 percent per year starting in 2021. It reduces “recapture” (i.e. “Robin Hood”) by over $3.5 billion. The bill requires school districts to undergo efficiency audits before presenting tax increases to voters, which helps to ensure that taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely. HB 3 also provides more than $4.5 billion in additional public education funding, including increases to the basic formula allotment and incentive pay for educators.
- Constitutional Prohibition on a State Income Tax – House Joint Resolution 38 (Leach, et al. | SP: Fallon) amends the Texas Constitution to ensure that no Texan ever pays individual income taxes to the state (pending voter approval). This strengthens the existing constitutional provision which allows the Legislature to impose an income tax only with voter approval.
- Prohibiting Red Light Cameras – House Bill 1631 (Stickland, et al. | SP: Hall) repeals authorization for local governments to utilize red light cameras and expressly prohibits local governments from using them. Red light cameras raise legitimate constitutional concerns and have been voted down by residents any time a local government has put their use to a democratic vote.
- Protecting the Free Exercise of Religion from Government Discrimination – Senate Bill 1978 (Hughes | SP: Krause, et al.) protects religious freedom by prohibiting governmental entities from taking any adverse action against a person based on that person’s membership, affiliation, or support of religious organizations. Governmental entities are now expressly prohibited from using governmental power to punish or mistreat individuals and entities based on their religious beliefs or affiliations.
- Protecting Freedom of Speech on College Campuses – Senate Bill 18 (Huffman, et al. | SP: Geren, et al.) provides that a university may not discriminate against students, student groups, or invited speakers on the basis of viewpoint or content. Specifically, the bill states unequivocally that it is the policy of Texas “to protect the expressive rights of persons guaranteed by the constitutions of the United States and of [Texas] by: (1) recognizing freedom of speech and assembly as central to the mission of institutions of higher education; and (2) ensuring that all persons may assemble peaceably on the campus of institutions of higher education for expressive activities, including to listen to or observe the expressive activities of others.” The bill also requires schools to establish disciplinary sanctions for students, organizations, or faculty who unduly interfere with the expressive activities of others on campus.
- Protecting the Lives of Aborted Children Born Alive – House Bill 16 (Leach, et al. | SP: Kolkhorst) imposes civil and criminal penalties on physicians who fail to provide appropriate medical care to children born alive after an attempted abortion. Inspired by U.S. Senator Ben Sasse’s Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, HB 16 is a response to an increasingly aggressive position on the part of the pro-abortion movement. Indeed, 57 members of the Texas House of Representatives voted against protections for aborted babies born alive. Conservatives in the Texas Legislature universally supported those protections by passing HB 16.
- Banning Local Governments from Subsidizing Abortion Providers Like Planned Parenthood – Senate Bill 22 (Campbell, et al. | SP: Noble, et al.) prohibits governmental entities from subsidizing abortion providers and affiliates of such providers using contracts or agreements backed by taxpayer resources. This has become a common practice and taxpayers should not be forced to fund such subsidies.
- Prohibiting “Surprise” Medical Billing – Senate Bill 1264 (Hancock | SP: Oliverson, et al.) targets the practice of “surprise” medical billing or “balance billing.” Surprise billing takes place when patients are treated by providers outside their health insurance network and the patients have no notice of that fact or are unable to receive notice (such as when patients receive treatment from an out-of-network provider at an in-network hospital or are transported to the nearest hospital while experiencing a medical emergency). In such cases, surprise billing can result in devastating financial consequences to patients as they are forced to pay the portion of the bill that their insurance does not cover. SB 1264 would limit a patient’s financial responsibility in such cases for services covered under the patient’s health plan, except when the patient is informed of, and accepts, the approximate amount for which he or she may be responsible.
- Prohibiting Organized Labor Requirements in Government-Funded Projects – House Bill 985 (Parker | SP: Hancock) reinforces Texas’s status as a right-to-work state by prohibiting “project labor agreements” as a requirement in government-funded projects. The bill specifically provides that an institution awarding a public work contract funded with state money may not “prohibit, require, discourage, or encourage a person bidding on the public work contract, including a contractor or subcontractor, from entering into or adhering to an agreement with a collective bargaining organization relating to the project.” This bill ensures that cost and quality will be the key factors in awarding public contracts, not whether the retained entity uses unionized workers.
In addition to key reforms to protect the lives of aborted children born alive (HB 16) and to prohibit local subsidies to abortion providers (SB 22), the Texas Legislature enacted a number of measures to increase protections for pregnant women and the unborn.
- Senate Bill 24 (Lucio | SP: Paddie) strengthens the informed consent requirement to an abortion. Current law requires a physician to provide a woman seeking an abortion with certain information, such as the medical risks of the procedure. In cases in which the physician is permitted to provide this information over the phone, SB 24 requires that the call be a private, one-on-one call. The bill further requires that the physician (or the physician’s designee) personally hand required informational material to the woman seeking the abortion. As the bill author noted, there are indications that some abortion providers are currently ignoring the requirements in current law that ensure a woman gives informed consent to an abortion.
- House Bill 2271 (Lang, et al. | SP: Kolkhorst) permits the Attorney General to use a portion of the revenue generated from “Choose Life” specialty license plates to advertise that funds raised from the issuance of these plates are used to make grants to nonprofit organizations which provide counselling to pregnant women who are considering placing their unborn child for adoption. Because there are very likely many people in the state who would participate in this program if they were aware of its existence, the bill should result in increased funding for an alternative to abortion.
- Senate Bill 750 (Kolkhorst, et al. | SP: Button, et al.) comprehensively addresses the issue of maternal health both during and after pregnancy. Among other things, the bill directs the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to ensure that women receiving services under the Healthy Texas Women (HTW) program are referred to and provided information on the state’s existing primary health care services program. The bill also requires HHSC to collaborate with the state’s Medicaid managed care organizations (MCOs) to develop and implement cost-effective, evidence-based, and enhanced prenatal care services to high-risk pregnant women enrolled in Medicaid; evaluate postpartum services provided to women enrolled in HTW and develop an enhanced, cost-effective, limited postpartum benefit for these women provided up to one year postpartum; develop and implement strategies to ensure the continuity of care for women who transition from Medicaid to HTW; and develop or enhance statewide initiatives to improve the quality of maternal healthcare services and outcomes and specify initiatives that each MCO must incorporate into their services.
Second Amendment Rights
Building on successful reforms of past legislative sessions (e.g. open carry and campus carry), the 86th Legislature passed roughly a dozen pro-Second Amendment bills that reinforce the importance of self-defense and the right to bear arms.
- Senate Bill 772 (Hughes | SP: Springer, et al.) ensures that business owners who allow people to carry handguns in their properties are protected from liability if someone is injured in shooting.
- Senate Bill 535 (Campbell | SP: Flynn, et al.) repeals the statutory prohibition on carrying handguns in churches or other places of worship.
- House Bill 1143 (Hefner, et al. | SP: Hughes) prohibits school districts from regulating the manner in which a handgun, firearm, or ammunition is stored in a vehicle.
- House Bill 1791 (Krause, et al. | SP: Fallon) prohibits state agencies and political subdivisions from excluding licensed handgun holders from their premises.
- House Bill 3231 (Clardy, et al. | SP: Fallon) expands the state preemption in current law of municipal ordinances that restrict the transfer, transportation, and storage of firearms, knives, and ammunition to cover possession and carrying of those items and commercial transactions involving such items.
- House Bill 2363 (Harris, et al. | SP: Birdwell) changes a restriction in current law by allowing foster parents to store firearms and ammunition in the same location.
- House Bill 302 (Paul, et al. SP: Hughes) provides that apartment tenants, condominium owners, and their guests may not be prosecuted for storing, carrying, or keeping a lawfully owned firearm on the premises.
- House Bill 121 (Swanson, et al. | SP: Creighton) allows licensed handgun holders who fail to notice a business owner’s sign prohibiting handguns on the property to avoid criminal charges by promptly leaving the premises after being orally notified by the business owner.
- Senate Bill 741 (Hughes | SP: Landgraf) prohibits a property owners’ association from restricting a person’s lawful possession, transportation, storage, or discharge of a firearm or ammunition.
- House Bill 1177 (Phelan, et al. | SP: Creighton) allows people to carry handguns while evacuating a disaster area or returning to that area after evacuation. The bill also permits people in a disaster area to carry handguns at an emergency shelter with the permission of the shelter owner.
- House Bill 446 (Moody, et al. | SP: Perry) removes artificial knuckles from the list of weapons that may not be owned, manufactured, sold, or transported. This bill reinforces the importance of self-defense, especially given that many owners of knuckles are women carrying “kitty” keychains for self-defense.
The 86th Legislative Session saw strong efforts to increase economic freedom by eliminating or reducing unnecessary government regulations. There was particularly outstanding reform in the area of occupational licensing. In fact, the House of Representatives voted down a proposal to create a mandatory registration and regulatory scheme for roofing contractors. The bill (HB 2101), which in many key respects resembled a full-blown licensing proposal, was defeated with 99 Nays and 33 Yeas, for a decisive statement from legislators on unnecessary new regulations. Positive reforms include the following:
- Senate Bill 1995 (Birdwell | SP: Paddie) requires regulatory bodies to obtain the approval of the Office of the Governor before re-adopting or issuing any occupational licensing requirements that would have an anti-competitive effect.
- Senate Bill 1200 (Campbell, et al. | SP: Miller, et al.) provides reciprocity and expedited licensure for the spouses of military members who are licensed for an occupation in another state. SB 1200 should be a model for all out-of-state licensees who wish to move to Texas.
- Senate Bill 37 (Zaffirini | SP: Krause, et al.) prohibits a default on student loans from being used to disqualify a person from obtaining an occupational license. The current law makes little sense in that it deprives people of the ability to earn a paycheck in their chosen profession, making the repayment of their loans even more difficult.
- House Bill 1342 (Leach, et al. | Hinojosa) ensures that persons with criminal history would not be disqualified from obtaining an occupational license if they otherwise satisfy the criteria for licensure and their criminal history does not relate to the duties performed pursuant to the license.
- Senate Bill 1531 (Hancock | SP: White) ensures that criminal history does not serve as an absolute bar in obtaining certain licenses for several occupations, including podiatrists and midwifery.
- House Bill 2847 (Goldman | SP: Hancock) reduces or eliminates licensing requirements for a variety of fields, including prosthetic technicians, used automotive parts employees, and mold assessors. Perhaps more importantly, the bill also preempts local governments from making holders of state licenses meet more stringent requirements.
- House Bill 1894 (Goldman | SP: Hancock) repeals criminal penalties for violating the statute governing “registered” interior designers. Registration is not required in order to practice interior design, making this penalty excessive, unnecessary, and punitive for most practitioners in the industry.
- House Bill 2699 (Goldman | SP: Zaffirini) streamlines the testing requirements for hearing instrument fitters and dispensers and removes the provision in prior law that a crime involving “moral turpitude” is grounds for denying a license. This bill is one of several this session that removed this vague and unclear standard for licensing.
- House Bill 2698 (Goldman, et al. | Zaffirini) would authorize barber schools, private beauty culture schools, or public secondary or postsecondary beauty culture schools to administer the practical examination requirement for a barber’s license. That authorization was previously restricted to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (or a contractor with TDLR).
Food and Alcoholic Beverage Regulation
- House Bill 234 (Krause et al. | SP: Nelson) preempts local governmental and property owners’ associations from regulating or prohibiting the sale of lemonade or other non-alcoholic drinks by children on private property or in a public park.
- Senate Bill 572 (Kolkhorst | SP: Rodriguez, et al.) expands the list of “cottage” foods that may be legally produced at home for sale and permits the sale of them by internet and mail.
- House Bill 1545 (Paddie: SP: Birdwell) authorizes “beer to go” sales. Craft breweries will be allowed to sell their own products to-go to visitors and customers at their breweries.
- House Bill 2790 (Goldman | SP: Johnson) repeals a provision in state law that presumes intent to sell alcohol in a dry county when a person possesses more than one quart of liquor or 24 twelve-ounce bottles of beer.
- House Bill 2726 (Kuempel | SP: Creighton) authorizes “at-risk” permitting for modifications or changes to existing projects that require an air quality permit. Allowing the permit holder to begin construction at their own risk after the commission has issued a draft permit is a positive change in state law that is likely to provide tangible real-world benefits in terms of making the permitting process less burdensome.
Preemption of Local Building Code Mandates
- House Bill 2439 (Phelan, et al. | SP: Buckingham) prohibits local governments from adopting or enforcing regulations that prohibit or limit the installation of a building product or material in the construction or alteration of a residential or commercial building if the product or material is approved for use by a national model code. This helps keep construction costs and renovations more affordable for Texans.
Local Debt, Bond, & Election Transparency
While the state of Texas carries little debt relative to its large population, the debt held by its political subdivisions has exploded in recent years. At the close of the 2018 fiscal year, Texas’s local government debt stood at $230 billion.i That represents a staggering increase of more than $88 billion (approximately 63 percent) since the close of the 2007 fiscal year.ii This growth is concerning because political subdivisions issue bonds to finance their debt and this debt is generally paid back through property taxes. This arrangement creates a temptation for Texans to spend freely now while transferring responsibility for payment of the debt to future Texas taxpayers. Indeed, it is not simply the growth in the amount of local debt that is concerning, but the ease with which new debt is being issued. For example, on November 6, 2018, 86 local governments held 141 bond elections; of these, 127 (or 90 percent) authorized the issuance of new debt in the amount of $11.27 billion.iii The Legislature enacted several bills this past session to increase transparency of local debt and bond issuance.
- Senate Bill 30 (Birdwell, et al. | SP: Phelan) will require that bond elections be more transparent by separating and itemizing the various projects to be funded. The following bond purposes require such separation: (1) the construction, improvement, or renovation of a stadium, natatorium, recreational facility other than a gymnasium, performing arts facility, or housing for teachers, and (2) the acquisition or update of technology equipment, other than equipment used for school security purposes. Each proposition will be required to state the principal amount of the bonds to be issued that constitutes the cost of construction of that portion of the building or complex. The purpose of the bill is to avoid situations in which voters are faced with a single proposition for multiple purposes; in such cases, voters might approve of the proposition even though they disapprove of bonds being issued for certain purposes in the proposition.
- House Bill 440 (Murphy, et al. | SP: Lucio) will prohibit political subdivisions from issuing general obligation bonds to purchase, improve, or construct improvements or to purchase personal property if the term of the bond (i.e., the time from issuance to maturity) exceeds 120 percent of the reasonably expected economic life of the improvement or personal property. In addition, HB 440 would restrict the use of funds raised by political subdivisions through such bonds to the specific purpose for which the bonds were issued, or for the retirement of those bonds. This bill will ensure that political subdivisions are not burdening future taxpayers for benefit of current taxpayers.
- House Bill 477 (Murphy, et al. | SP: Bettencourt) requires ballot propositions authorizing the issuance of debt by a political subdivision to disclose the purpose for which the debt obligations are to be authorized, the principal amount of the debt obligations to be authorized, and that taxes sufficient to pay the principal and interest on the debt may be imposed, the estimated or maximum interest rate on the debt, and the maximum maturity date of the debt. In general, a voter information document would have to be prepared showing additional detailed information, such as the political subdivision’s total outstanding debt and the estimated remaining interest on all outstanding debt obligations of the political subdivision. HB 477 will help make voters aware that the bond propositions they are voting on are but one small part of the larger debt issue in their local jurisdictions in Texas. By providing taxpayers with a clearer picture of their total debt burden and the related tax obligations, the bill may result in less enthusiasm for increases in local debt.
- House Bill 305 (Paul, et al. | SP: Nelson) requires a political subdivision with taxing authority to post information on its website, including the political subdivision’s contact information, the names of each elected officer, the date and location of the next election for those officers, the requirements and deadline for filing for candidacy of each elected office of the political subdivision, and open meetings notifications required by law. HB 305 is a positive transparency measure that helps empower voters by making relevant information easily accessible.
- House Bill 803 (Patterson, et al. | SP: Paxton) requires toll project entities to publish a report on the entity’s annual financial data within 180 days of the close of its fiscal year. The report would include information such as toll revenue for each toll project, the final maturity of bonds issued by the entity for a toll project to toll system, and any capital improvement plan; however, certain public-private toll projects would have to list only the name and cost of the toll project and the termination date of the agreement. Transparency is crucial to the public in understanding the state of each toll project and understanding the costs, and revenue, of toll projects that individuals use on a daily basis.
- House Bill 1888 (Bonnen, G., et al. | SP: Huffman) addresses the issue of “rolling voting,” whereby local districts or municipalities move voting machines during an ongoing election, ostensibly to seek out a specific electorate. House Bill 1888 clarifies that “temporary” locations must remain open for at least (1) eight hours each day, or (2) three hours each day if the city or county clerk does not serve as the early voting clerk for the territory holding the election and the territory has fewer than 1,000 registered voters. HB 1888 attempts to make elections more transparent, accessible, and predictable by requiring that movable voting locations stay in the same place for a certain period each day. To be clear, HB 1888 does not prohibit movable voting locations. It merely prohibits poll operators from moving around during the day seeking out voters more likely to vote a certain way. Voters have to go to the polls. Not the other way around.
Hurricane Harvey: Disaster Response & Preparedness
In 2017, Hurricane Harvey caused catastrophic damage in parts of Texas, inflicting damage of over $125 billion. The Governor’s Commission to Rebuild Texas studied the state’s response to Harvey and examined ways to improve the state’s preparedness for hurricanes and other disasters. Several bills passed this session implement the report’s suggestions and other ideas in aiming to improve the state’s response to future disasters.
- House Bill 5 (Phelan, et al. | SP: Kolkhorst) provides for a much-needed study into how the state can do a better job removing debris left behind after a disaster. The bill requires the Texas Division on Emergency Management (TDEM), in consultation with state agencies, to develop a catastrophic debris management plan and model guide for use by political subdivisions in the event of a disaster.
- House Bill 6 (Morrison, et al. | SP: Kolkhorst) requires the TDEM to develop a disaster recovery task force to operate throughout the long-term recovery period following disasters by providing specialized assistance to address financial issues, available federal assistance programs, and recovery and resiliency planning to speed recovery efforts. The task force will be allowed to include the resources of any appropriate state agencies, including institutions of higher education, and organized volunteer groups. In addition, HB 6 requires the task force to develop procedures for preparing and issuing a report listing each project related to a disaster that qualifies for federal assistance. Once a quarter, the task force will be required to brief members of the legislature, staff, and state agency personnel on the response and recovery efforts for previous disasters and any preparation or planning for potential disasters.
- House Bill 7 (Morrison, et al. | SP: Huffman) requires the governor’s office to compile and maintain a comprehensive list of regulatory statutes and rules that could require suspension during a disaster. TDEM is required to develop a plan to assist political subdivisions of the state with executing contracts for services that are likely to become necessary following a disaster. The plan would be required to include training on the benefits to a political subdivision from executing disaster preparation contracts in advance of a disaster, recommendations on the services likely needed following a disaster (including debris management and infrastructure repair), and assistance with finding persons capable of providing disaster services and executing contracts in advance of a disaster.
- House Bill 26 (Metcalf, et al. | SP: Nichols) directs the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to make rules requiring dam operators to notify local emergency operation centers about any intentional release of water. The emergency operation centers in turn must notify the public. This addresses an issue that occurred during Hurricane Harvey.
- House Bill 2325 (Metcalf | SP: Hancock) requires TDEM, in consultation with any state or private entity as the division determines appropriate, to coordinate state and local government efforts to make 9-1-1 emergency service capable of receiving text messages. TDEM is also required to develop standards for the use of social media by governmental entities during and after a disaster. Additionally, TDEM would be required to develop a mobile application for wireless communication devices to communicate critical information during a disaster to victims and first responders.
- House Bill 2320 (Paul |SP: Taylor) would require TDEM, in collaboration with other entities, to include private wireless communication, Internet, and cable service providers in the disaster planning process to determine the availability of the providers’ portable satellite communications equipment and mobile telephone towers to assist in response and recovery immediately following a disaster. TDEM would be required to identify methods for hardening utility facilities and critical infrastructure (hospitals and fire stations) in order to maintain essential services during disasters.
- House Joint Resolution 34 (Shine, et al. | SP: Bettencourt) & House Bill 492 (Shine, et al. | SP: Taylor) allow the property tax market to more accurately reflect the damage caused by disasters. These measures permit the chief appraiser to reappraise property after a natural disaster.
- Senate Bill 443 (Hancock | SP: Murphy) extends the period in which a structure is still eligible for the homestead exemption and the period in which construction must begin on the new structure to five years (from two) if the property was rendered uninhabitable or unusable and is located in an area declared to be a disaster area by the governor following a disaster.
In May 2018, Santa Fe High School, located in the Houston metropolitan area, was the site of a shooting that claimed the lives of ten people. While the threat of a school shooting can never be completely eliminated, two bills passed this session have the potential to reduce the risk of school shooting casualties.
- Senate Bill 11 (Taylor | SP: Bonnen, G., et al.) implements a number of school safety measures, including suicide prevention measures and improved communication and response times in the event of a crisis. These measures are the product of the Select Committee on Violence in Schools and School Security.
- House Bill 1387 (Hefner et al. | SP: Creighton) increases the number of school marshals that may be appointed to a given school campus. With improved communication between school districts and emergency personnel, and additional school marshals, schools should be able to better address safety concerns.
Ethics Reform and Public Transparency
Transparency in government is crucial in terms of maintaining the public’s trust in government. To that end, several reforms provided more sunlight on the elected officials who serve that trust.
- House Bill 2677 (Goldman, et al. | SP: Hughes) updates current law that prohibits former candidates and officeholders from using campaign contributions as political expenditures that amount to contributions to other candidates, officeholders, or political committees. The bill updates language to include in this prohibition a person acting on the registrant’s behalf. It also makes clear that this prohibition applies to political contributions accepted by candidates, officeholders, and political committees. The bill would prohibit a person who makes or authorizes a political contribution or direct campaign expenditure from political contributions from engaging in activities that require the person to register as a lobbyist for two years after the date the person makes the contribution or expenditure.
- House Bill 1495 (Toth, et al. | SP: Creighton, et al.) requires a governmental entity or state agency which enters into a contract with a business entity for lobbying services to disclose to the Texas Ethics Commission the names of any people who own a controlling interest in the business entity or who facilitate the contract. The bill also requires local governments to disclose their expenditures for lobbying services. HB 1495 is a welcome improvement to the law that will allow Texans to better understand any relationships that government officials have with lobbyists.
- House Bill 2179 (Wray, et al. | SP: Hughes) makes it easier to remove a member of an appraisal review board (ARB) for certain unacceptable behavior by removing “clear and convincing” as the evidentiary threshold for misconduct.
- Senate Bill 943 (Watson, et al. | SP: Capriglione, et al.) makes information relating to contracts by governmental bodies and vendors subject to open records laws. SB 943 will empower the public to obtain information critical to holding elected officials accountable, such as the price of contracts, deadlines for completing them, and the identity of the contracting parties.
- Senate Bill 944 (Watson | SP: Capriglione) makes several changes that will improve the public’s ability to successfully make public information requests. For example, the bill requires current and former officers or employees of a governmental body who maintain public information on a private device to transfer that information to the governmental body for preservation or to preserve the information in its original form on the privately-owned device. The bill also authorizes governmental bodies to designate an email and a physical address for public information requests, and requires the Attorney General to create a public information request form which governmental bodies may then use.
- House Bill 368 (Cain, et al. | Hall) expressly allows the use of legislatively produced audio and video in political advertising, which helps hold elected officials accountable for what they say and do on the House and Senate floors.
Veterans & Law Enforcement
Texas law has long honored the contributions of military members and law enforcement. This support was evidenced by a number of bills passed this session, including the following:
- House Bill 3601 (Bell, C. | SP: Menéndez) would permit the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to approve degree plans offered in coordination with the Texas Military Department that use alternative methods of determining mastery, including competency-based education. Competency-based education is a promising new form of education that challenges the status quo in terms of its approach. Rather than classroom instruction on a rigid schedule, students learn and demonstrate competence as they advance through coursework on a degree plan.
- House Bill 1883 (Bonnen, G., et al. | SP: Creighton) would allow individuals on active duty in the U.S. armed forces to defer payment on delinquent property taxes when transferred out of state.
- House Bill 1597 (Lambert, et al. | Buckingham) makes it easier for members of the military to relocate by allowing their children to establish residency for admission into Texas public schools by providing the school district a copy of a military order directing the parent’s transfer to a military installation in or adjacent to the applicable district’s attendance zone.
- House Bill 114 (White, et al. | SP: Birdwell) directs the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to jointly provide high schools with materials regarding the availability of college credit awarded by institutions of higher education to veterans and military servicemembers for military experience, education, and training obtained during military service.
In December 2018, the Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force released a report with numerous legislative recommendations.iv According to a 2016 study cited by the report, there are an estimated 79,000 minor and youth victims of human trafficking at any given time.v
- Senate Bill 20 (Huffman, et al. | SP: Thompson, S., et al.), which implements the Task Force report’s recommendations, including upgrading the offense of prostitution, making online promotion of prostitution a third-degree felony (with enhancers available), restricting the admissibility of the sexual history of the victim in prosecuting a person for any of numerous sex-related offenses, making it easier for victims of sex crimes to obtain orders of nondisclosure for the activities into which they were coerced, and providing for enhanced regulation of massage establishments, which are often fronts for trafficking operations, to name a few.
Forced annexation refers to a process in which certain municipalities in Texas located outside the most-populous counties can add unincorporated areas to the municipality without the consent of the residents of those areas. The prospect of forced annexation is concerning to property owners because it can subject them to higher taxes and additional regulation even though they never voted for either. Unfortunately, forced annexation can operate as the reverse of property owners “voting with their feet” and moving to lower-tax locations; municipalities essentially move their boundaries to grow their tax base.
- House Bill 347 (King, et al. | SP: Birdwell) builds upon annexation reform efforts in prior legislative sessions and ends the practice of forced annexation, thereby protecting the rights of property owners in smaller counties to the same extent of those of property owners in larger counties. The bill puts an end to what is functionally taxation without representation.
Local governments in recent years have also become more aggressive with respect to preventing home and property owners from using their property as they see fit. One method of doing so is by designating the property as a historic landmark.
- House Bill 2496 (Cyrier, et al. | SP: Buckingham) addresses this issue by prohibiting municipalities from designating certain locations as historical landmarks unless the property owner consents to the designation or the designation was approved by a three-fourths supermajority vote of the governing body of the municipality and a three-fourths supermajority vote of the zoning, planning, or historical commission of the municipality, if any exists.
Municipal management districts (MMDs) are local districts created to pursue one or more public benefits, such as maintaining employment or expanding transportation capabilities. To achieve their ends, MMDs are authorized to acquire, construct, and develop permanent improvements and to provide services inside and outside their boundaries. To finance their activities, MMDs may assess property taxes against certain property owners in the district and may call elections to authorize the issuance of bonds.
- HB 304 (Paul, et al. |SP: Nelson) amends the law to provide that the creation of an MMD requires a petition of the owners of a majority of the property value in the prospective MMD which would be subject to the taxes imposed by the MMD; in contrast, prior law required a petition of the owners of the majority of the property value in the prospective MMD, irrespective of whether those owners would be subject to the taxes imposed by the MMD. This prior law was problematic in that it allowed residents living in a prospective MMD to vote themselves services and improvements without facing any corresponding responsibility to contribute to the funding of those services and improvements. The bill makes similar changes regarding approval of an MMD’s financing of improvements, issuance of bonds, and dissolution.
Building on successful reforms to Child Protective Services in the 85th Legislative Session, the 86th Legislature passed additional measures designed to provide the best care possible for children in the conservatorship of the Department of Family and Protective Services.
- House Bill 2764 (Frank, et al. | SP: Hughes) improves training requirements for potential foster parents, including provisions specifically tailored for children with complex medical needs, emotional disorders, disabilities, or children that were victims of human trafficking. The bill allows provisional placement to prospective foster caregivers while they complete the required training. HB 2764 also requires the Health and Human Services Commission to improve the process and standards for child-placing agencies, foster homes, and adoptive homes licensed by the state, with goals of increasing the number of adoptive families in Texas.